LAHORE: The Prime Minister’s Citizens Portal seems to be ‘ineffective’ as far as action against private medical and dental colleges in Punjab is concerned for charging exorbitant fees from students, as all the 390 complaints uploaded to the portal in this regard, have been forwarded to the University of Health Sciences.
Received by the UHS through the PM’s portal from January to April this year, all the complaints were forwarded to the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council for action against the medical colleges for violating PMDC regulations 2018.
The portal – an online integrated system to redress the citizens’ grievances — was introduced by Prime Minister Imran Khan, connecting all the government organisations both at the federal and provincial levels to address the public issues to avoid red tape.
An official told Dawn many students of the private medical colleges had filed complaints against owners of these institutions for blatantly violating the PMDC Regulations 2018 with regard to their fee structures.
He said the largest province of Punjab had 43 private medical and dental colleges. Shockingly, most of them were found to have charged tuition fee more than the amount prescribed under the PMDC Regulations 2018.
Consequently, he said, the academic career of the students had been put at grave risk, while the parents had to bear extra financial burden and hardships.
The PMDC in this regard had intimated all the private medical institutions through a notification dated Oct 31, 2018, had sought revision of tuition fee following the Supreme Court order.
The notification reads: “A tuition fee of Rs950,000 is to be charged as per MBBS and BDS (Admission, House Job and Internship) Regulations 2018 for the session 2018-19 and on wards with no retrospective effect”
However, the notification created a lot of confusion. On one hand, it declared that the Regulations 2018 shall be applicable for the session 2018-19 and on wards that meant old session students would not be charged new tuition fee. At the same time, the notification mentions that “it will also be applicable to all classes with no retrospective effect”.
The owners of the private medical colleges interpreted the second part of the notification to suit their interest, creating room for charging more tuition fee from old and running students.
It was also confusing because the PMDC notification stated that the fee could not be charged from the students halfway their academic session.
The situation got further complicated when the PMDC managing director allowed a private medical college to charge additional tuition fee from the students of previous sessions.
The self-contradictory notification and changing stance of the PMDC left the students as well as their parents at the mercy of the owners of the private medical colleges who exploited the confusion and charged hundreds of millions of rupees from those studying in previous sessions.
A fresh case again drew the attention of the authorities when the Fatima Memorial College of Medicine & Dentistry, Lahore, sent notices to the parents of already enrolled students (in previous sessions) to pay more tuition fee.
The FMCM&D, through the notice asked a final year student, Sana Shahid, to pay the difference in the tuition fee amounting to Rs238,000 by May 15.
Interestingly, the UHS Vice Chancellor Prof Javed Akram and Pakistan Medical & Dental Council head Prof Dr Tariq Butta were not on the same page regarding the PMDC Regulations 2018.
Prof Akram is of the view that the PMDC regulations created confusion, benefiting the owners of the private colleges which are charging exorbitant fees from running students in sheer violation of the rules.
Talking to Dawn, he said the colleges were demanding heavy fees from 25 per cent to 50pc of the running (old) students which were more than what they had already paid.
“We have received 390 complaints from the students through PM Citizen Portal regarding the exorbitant fees illegally charged by the owners of the private medical and dental colleges in Punjab,” he said.
He added that all the complaints were forwarded to the PMDC for redressal under the council’s regulations.
He said the UHS received no feedback from the council against any of the complaints referred to it by the varsity for redressal.
Prof Akram said the PMDC must initiate action against the colleges as the council was the only regulatory body which reserved the right under the given rules to ensure implementation of the fee structure.
He further said if there were any ambiguities in the 2018 regulations, the PMDC must go for amendments to the regulations for clarity to save academic career of hundreds of students.
“It is a serious issue and in order to take it up at a higher forum, the UHS called an emergent meeting of the academic council on May 2,” Prof Javed Akram said, adding that later the meeting of the syndicate would also be called for further discussion on it.
He said the UHS would also call a meeting of all the principals and owners of private medical colleges to take up the issue with them.
When asked, Prof Tariq Bhutta admitted that the PMDC needs clarity to define or interpret the 2018 regulations regarding fee structure.
He said the PMDC had received complaints from students through the UHS which had been filed with the Citizens Portal.
However, he lamented that so far none of the private colleges bothered to reply to the PMDC letter seeking explanation for charging exorbitant fees.
Keeping in view the situation, the PMDC decided to call a meeting of the council for clarity on 2018 regulations on fee structure, he said.
Further action would be taken on the basis of the council’s decision, he said, pledging that if the fee charged by the private colleges proved illegal, the PMDC would bring them to the book.
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2019